Is Everest Enough?

Climbers are now lined up and heading for the top of Everest this summit season. Weather forecasters predict light winds and some of the most benevolent summit temperatures ever, hitting -18 Celsius (0 degrees farenheight) this week.

Winds are hovering around 10-15 kph, practically T-shirt weather at the top of the world.

So is just climbing Everest enough?

Kama Rita Sherpa has made his 26th ascent of Everest this year and multiple Western Guides are now notching ten plus ascents each. Lhakpa Sherpa, the woman with the most ascents to date, is also going for a record 10th ascent this year as well.

If climbers summit early in this season, will they then return a week later to make a second ascent, as more and more Sherpas do?

Don’t be late! Climbing out of Camp 3, headed for the South Col, climbers back up over the steep section of the Yellow Band. Is just climbing once, with oxygen, up the normal route, enough? Photo: Robert Anderson

Kami Rita Sherpa, is already contemplating a return to the top this week, to set and also break his own world record. Multiple Sherpas who first fixed the ropes to the summit, are also taking a quick rest and hoping for a second round climbing with clients. Amongst Sherpas the old question and reputation establisher of “Have you climbed Everest?” has become a simple number relating to their multiple ascents of the peak.

Kami Rita Sherpa – a record setting 26th ascent of Everest, with perhaps one more this season?

Over 130 climbers have now done Everest twice in a single season. For Sherpas, if you guide twice, you double up with your rope fixing fees and client bonuses. This is a job after all, the Himalayan seasons are short and maximizing their returns only makes sense when they can.

For paying clients, you could get two ascents in for the price of one – perhaps the only thing that could ever be considered a bargain on Everest?

For Western Guides, more are now hitting 10 plus ascents, more remarkable as the majority have been done in the company of clients – guiding, motivating and looking after a host of people with a host of skills. From Mike Hamill, leading the ever increasing client base of the aptly named Climb the Seven Summits, to Ryan Waters heading up Mountain Professionals, to Garrett Madison at Madison Mountaineering, they and their guide teams are all treading very familiar ground. Even they are looking for something new too it seems.

If just Everest isn’t enough, adding an ascent of Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world is becoming more common.

Everest, South Col, South Summit, Kangshung Face
Looking across from the route to the summit of Everest, at Lhotse and the Lhotse Couloir, leading diagonally left directly to the summit. Finish off Everest one day, stop for lunch below at the South Col, then head for the top of Lhotse? Photo: Ed Webster

Standing directly adjacent to Everest, you can first ascend Everest, return for a rest at the South Col, then traverse out early the next morning and shoot straight up the Lhotse Couloir to its 8,516 meters (27,940 feet) summit.

You will have then done two 8,000 meter peaks in as many days. And after paying the Everest fee, you can add Lhotse on for far less than half the price again – another bargain perhaps? The number of people with the enthusiasm and energy for that is ever increasing, with over 100 people registered for Lhotse this year, a number of them attempting Everest and then moving straight to Lhotse.

With the long and stable weather forecast, this could be a very good year to have both on the cards.

With more people doing the double, it is only inevitable that climbers need to up the ante yet again, and go for the Triple Crown, doing Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, all in a single season. This is still a rare event, needing a mix of stamina, climbing skills and a very large dose of good luck with climbing conditions and the weather.

While the summits of Everest and Lhotse are very well defined, Nuptse is a long, thin and very dangerous ridge. Gaining the true summit is very challenging and committing. It is the lowest of the three, but also by far the least often ascended.

Paul Teare, on the Lho La, Tibet, looking across to Camp 1 on Everest, the Khumbu Icefall and up at Nuptse. Photo: Robert Anderson

There is already controversy this year on ropes being set on Nuptse, but not actually leading to the summit, similar to what has happened on Manaslu for many years, with summits claimed for various points along the ridges.

When one team member returns from the “top” and a second team member returns and says it was a near miss, the story rapidly gets muddled, as is the case with Kenton Cool’s climb with Alex Txikon in 2013. When you go out to claim the Triple Crown, best to have your photos and GPS all lined up in a row and team members in agreement as to exactly where you have climbed to.

Shishipangma, 8000 meter peak, Everest, Himalayas
The Nuptse Ridge at base of photo, taken from high on Everest – little wonder reaching the ridge may or may not get you to the actual summit of Nuptse. Shishipangma in the distance and Everest shadow lower right. Photo: Robert Anderson

This may also be a good year to attempt Everest without oxygen, as one of the biggest advantages oxygen provides is it keeps you warm. With the higher temperatures and low winds, taking longer to summit would be less of an issue.

Marc Batard, the Frenchman who set one of the earliest speed records on Everest, is back again this year, pioneering what he hopes will be a new route to Camp 1, avoiding the icefall and then continuing on to the summit sans oxygen. At 70 years of age, this should surely be enough of an Everest for anyone.

With no-oz summits of Everest just 2% of the total, that is still a remarkable achievement for anyone.

Ed Webster, Stephen Venables l, Kangshung Face, Everest
Everest without oxygen – Ed Webster on the Kangshung Face. Photo: Stephen Venables

So if Everest is suddenly appearing just a bit too commonplace, doing it twice in a season, adding in Lhotse and maybe Nuptse, then doing them all without oxygen could be the challenge of the year?

Of course, getting up is only half way. Everest alone is not nearly enough for Australian Ken Hutt and South African Pierre Carter, who in two separate groups hope to fly from the mountain in their paragliders. Just as air pressure decreases and there is so much less air density to breathe in, this also means their gliders will be flying around 3 times as fast as at sea level, a rapid descent indeed.

There is getting up Everest, and getting down Everest – projected 14 minute flying time, moving at three times the regular airspeed? Then you have to dodge a few local beasts on landing. Avoiding the Water Buffalo landing in Nepal. Photo: Vern Tejas

Or, as we have seen so often on Everest, is a quieter season and good weather forecast only luring people in, for it all to change? The less skilled will get higher, the confidence increases and as is often the case, Everest itself will prove more than enough.

If Everest isn’t enough, there are a few more options in my latest book,  Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest. And in French, Neuf vies Expeditions A L’Everest, both available in print and for immediate reading, digitally. Photo: Alexander Hillary